- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

Air America still is making noise after a tumultuous year on the airwaves. The Manhattan-based liberal talk-radio network has bounced checks, lost audiences, botched airtime, run through three chief executive officers and garnered much publicity, both good and bad.

But its signal is growing. Air America signed on March 31, 2004 with five stations and now has more than 10 times that many, in 15 of the top 20 radio markets — though some smaller affiliates barely muster static. It is also carried on the Sirius and XM satellite radio networks.

Air America’s programs have a combined 2 million weekly listeners, about one-tenth of conservative Rush Limbaugh’s weekly audience.

And it doesn’t hurt business to have President Bush in the White House.

“It can be good for ratings to be up against the establishment in this business,” noted Michael Harrison of Talkers Magazine, a radio industry publication.

Danny Goldberg, Air America’s third chief executive officer, yesterday credited his staff with accomplishing “the impossible,” adding that the network’s growth ensures it will be “part of America’s political and cultural conversations … for many years.”

Tonight, Air America is showcased on “Left of the Dial: America Undercover,” an HBO documentary described as the network’s “rise, scandalous near-fall and subsequent salvation.”

Tomorrow, TV host Jerry Springer joins the roster with his own “progressive, populist” radio show, already heard in four cities.

“I don’t think it matters how they do. Air America may succeed, or become a footnote in history,” Mr. Harrison said.

“But they have received unprecedented press, which has raised public awareness about talk radio. While they don’t have a monopoly on liberal talk, Air America is credited with bringing political diversity to commercial airwaves. They’re getting all the attention,” he added.

Now they must get down to business, joining about 100 other stations pushing liberal or progressive talk.

Air America’s flagship stations have wavered in the ratings, according to recent Arbitron figures.

WLIB-AM in New York, for example, is the choice of just 1.2 percent of the region’s listening audience — less than one-third of the 3.8 share for conservative WABC-AM. In Boston, Air America’s WKOX-AM has a 0.6 share, compared with a 4.3 at conservative WTKK-AM.

Despite its ratings woes, the network has grand ambitions.

“Today is both an ending and a beginning — an end to the right-wing dominance of talk radio, a beginning of a battle for truth, a battle for justice, a battle indeed for America,” Al Franken announced on his first broadcast.

In the months that followed, cash problems and questionable management forced staffers to work without salaries or health insurance. Corporate creditors went unpaid, checks bounced, and Air America ultimately was pulled off the air in Los Angeles and Chicago. Critics called the network “Err America.”

By year’s end, though, the network secured $13 million from private investors. In late February, former music executive Mr. Goldberg was named CEO.

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